Netanyahu doesn’t deserve to address Congress again

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Netanyahu doesn’t deserve to address Congress again

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-La.) announced that he is considering inviting Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who recently said Netanyahu “lost his way” by elevating his political survival above his country’s interests, reportedly indicated he supports an invitation.

This would be a mistake.

Netanyahu — more than any other foreign leader — has inserted himself into the web of American politics and foreign policy. If he accepts the invitation, he will have addressed Congress more times than Winston Churchill.

He comes to the United States as a major ally, but his words have impaired our national interests.

A scrutiny of his previous speeches to Congress reveals Netanyahu is no friend of America. When it came to decisions to attack Iraq or revoke the Iranian nuclear agreement, Netanyahu opted to push the United States to do his bidding, irrespective of the consequences.

Hailed as Israel’s “Mr. Security,” he strongly encouraged the United States to attack Iraq in a September 2002 testimony to Congress.

“There is no question whatsoever that Saddam Hussein is seeking, and is working, and is advancing towards the development of nuclear weapons,” he said, adding that, “once Saddam has nuclear weapons, the terror network will have nuclear weapons.”

Gazing at his crystal ball, he predicted that once Saddam was toppled, the Iranian people would rise against their regime: “And I think that people sitting next door in Iran, young people, and many others, will say the time of such regimes, of such despots is gone.”

Netanyahu’s tapestry of lies and wishful thinking was intended to benefit his goals for Israel, not the United States.

Israel considered Iraq a formidable foe given its large army. During the first Gulf War, 42 long-range Scud missiles were fired by Iraq on Israel. The post-9/11 environment offered Netanyahu a golden opportunity to settle scores with the Iraqi dictator by trying to induce the U.S. to topple him.

Israel was fully aware that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction. In August 1981, Israeli F-15 and F-16 aircraft destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor in Osirak. Subsequently, Israeli intelligence kept a close eye to ensure that Iraq did not try to rebuild its nuclear capability. Nonetheless, he was determined to echo the Bush administration’s false narrative, and his testimony swayed many who were ‘sitting on the fence’ and ended up supporting the invasion.

Resolved to scuttle President Barack Obama’s plan to sign an agreement that would halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Netanyahu addressed Congress in March 2015. Aligning himself with Republican opponents of the deal, he asserted: “We have been told that no deal is better than a bad deal. Well, this is a bad deal. It is a very bad deal. We are better off without.” He further warned that an agreement would pave the way to Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

Ignoring the opinion of Israel’s military establishment to preserve the Iranian accord, Netanyahu impelled President Trump to abrogate the agreement. 

“The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into,” remarked Trump.

However, the cancellation of the agreement has motivated Tehran to accelerate its nuclear program, contrary to what Netanyahu predicted.

In a 2022 interview with Al Jazeera, Kamal Kharazzi, who is the head of Iran’s Strategic Council on Foreign Relations said Iran was “a screwdriver’s turn away from reaching the 90 percent purity” necessary to assemble a nuclear bomb. He further warned that a U.S.-Israeli attack on Iran’s facilities would not succeed in aborting its nuclear program.

The United States and Israel now face Iran which has become a nuclear threshold state.

Netanyahu’s current standing in Israel is markedly different than in 2015 when he addressed Congress about the Iran agreement.

Israel’s colossal failure to prevent the Oct. 7 Hamas attack coupled with its military’s inability to push back the invaders or fend off the taking of hostages led most Israelis to view Netanyahu as responsible for the disaster. Likely, once the war is over, new elections will be held and Netanyahu will be ousted.

According to a January poll conducted by the Israel Institute for Democracy, only 15 percent of the Israeli public wants Netanyahu to remain as prime minister after the war.

The fear of losing power propels Netanyahu to prolong the war as long as possible even if the hostages, kept by Hamas, end up dead. Despite Biden’s insistence that humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza must be supplied uninterruptedly, he ignores the administration’s pleas. He also denies that the Palestinians in Gaza are experiencing famine and starvation, as reported by the United Nations.

Netanyahu heads a country that radical messianic Jews have captured. Bezalel Smotrich, head of the Jewish Home party, and Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the Jewish Power party, hold the keys to Netanyahu’s governing coalition. 

They believe Israel’s biblical patrimony includes the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip which must be placed under Israeli sovereignty. They also advocate reestablishing Jewish settlements in Gaza and reversing the 2005 evacuation of all Israeli communities in the Strip, a decision which they consider responsible for the Oct. 7 invasion.

Netanyahu has yet to explain to the Israeli people at home his failure to prevent Oct. 7 and his lack of vision for the “day after” the conflict ends. He would rather insert himself in American political debates than face his public.

The recent public rift between Netanyahu and President Biden goes well beyond US abstention in the Security Council vote calling for a cease-fire in Gaza or a disagreement over the planned attack on Rafah. Netanyahu believes that he’ll be able to complete his full term in office which ends in October 2026, only if President Trump, still popular in Israel, is reelected. His actions mirror this sentiment.

Netanyahu’s grandstanding in Washington is a recipe for disaster. The streets of Washington D.C. might turn into a war zone. His presence on Capitol Hill will further polarize the American public’s sentiment toward the war. 

Considering his record and agenda to drag out the war at any cost, inviting Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress will not only ignite fury at home but also undermine America’s credibility and efforts to end this bloody tragedy.  

Yehuda Lukacs is an associate professor emeritus of global affairs at George Mason University.